“One carton out of 700 cartons was not intended to be shipped to Japan. That beef was mistakenly exported." That was the excuse given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 24 after spinal columns were found in a U.S. beef shipment to Japan in the latest violation of a bilateral beef accord. Japanese consumers and politicians alike are beginning to wonder if it is possible to trust the U.S. side when it comes to beef inspections.
The beef in question was shipped from a National Beef plant in California and imported into Japan in August last year by Itochu Corp, which later sold it to Yoshinoya Holdings Co, the operator of restaurants serving beef bowls. The accord requires the removal of spinal columns, brain tissue and other ''specified risk materials'' deemed to be closely linked to mad cow disease (BSE). The U.S. government has since reassured Japan that other beef is OK.
According to Japan's health ministry, imported beef is inspected at five stages: Inspection at factories in the U.S., quarantine at Japanese customs, animal quarantine by Japan's agriculture ministry, inspection by private-sector buyers and private-sector food process factories. However, an official says, “The rate of random sampling on imported beef is just 1%.”
The latest case shows how insufficient the checking system for imported beef is, says Mikako Iba, who is a board member of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. U.S. authorities rely heavily on the private sector for inspection of beef. "That's all on their side, but once the beef gets to Japan, the laws related to imported beef are full of loopholes. Hence, dangerous beef can slip under the radar.”
“This case was predictable,” said Mashiko Yamada, an DPJ politician who visited some American beef processing plants with a beef import investigation team. “The decision to resume U.S. beef imports in July, 2006 was a sort of 'souvenir' from Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi who visited U.S. President George W Bush in June that year. Japanese politicians knew the inspection process was not good enough, but the political decision prevailed. Now, it has come back to haunt consumers.” (Translated by Taro Fujimoto)© Japan Today